CONTRARY TO RUMOUR, Steve Backshall has not been eaten by a crocodile. I saw him going out with a BBC crew on a Stuart Cove’s boat to record an episode of his latest Deadliest series. My plan was to go out with them but their Health & Safety man, Richard Bull, objected and the director said he was sorry but I might write about what they were doing.
I don’t know what they were doing but I’m sure they weren’t there to prove that sharks were docile and safe creatures with which to swim.
I patched up one of the injured members of Stuart Cove’s staff later, after I’d been left sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away for two days.
I also dropped into the water with the same sharks the day after the BBC crew had finished, and was rather surprised when a lemon shark swam straight up to me and tried to bite me in a totally unprovoked attack.
I managed to fend it off with my camera and came away with some tooth marks on one of the flash-mounting-arms. Things were unusually chaotic down there.
Then two tiger sharks turned up.
Tiger sharks are the garbage-collectors of the sea. They’ll try to eat anything, including underwater cameras, scuba tanks and in this case, evidently, me.
It’s important not to take your eyes off the tigers. They’re sneaky, and it gets difficult when there’s more than one of them.
One feels strangely detached when a huge tiger shark grabs your tank and swims off with you. It happened to me twice on the same dive, and I had started to think that my luck was running out.
Beto Barbosa, the Brazilian master-baiter, chased it off the first time and Stuart Cove, shark-wrangler to the Stars, obliged the second time.
Later we theorised that because my gear had been left lying about on the boat for the days while the BBC had been there, it had managed to soak up a lot of smell of the dead fish and fish-oil they had been using to draw in the sharks. They had obviously wanted to film the animals in their “deadliest” moments, and I reflected that the last words one of the BBC technicians had said to me before we left the dock was that if I came across the camera they’d lost, would I let them have it back please.
Emma, as the American operators call her, now makes a habit of grabbing cameras and swimming off with them. It’s a tiger shark’s idea of a jolly jape.
She probably has a tie-up with a regular eBay advertiser.
My problem was that she took my tank while I was still wearing it. What do you do when a big 5m-long stripy fish with teeth grabs you Well, there’s not much you can do.

TIGER BEACH IS SO NAMED because it is a shallow sandbank about 25 miles from West End, Grand Bahama, where, unusually, a large population of tiger sharks lives.
A couple of US-based dive-boats have been coming here since they were chased out of their own home waters by the Florida angling lobby.
It is now illegal to feed sharks in Florida other than for the purpose of harvesting them. So fishermen are allowed to bait sharks in order to kill them, but divers are not allowed to bait them in order to observe them.
The US-based boats bring nothing to the economy of the Bahamas, because they depart from Fort Lauderdale.
More recently, Stuart Cove’s local Dive Bahamas operation has made occasional forays from the Old Bahama Bay resort out to Tiger Beach, and I went with them on one as soon as the BBC crew had vacated the boat.
As soon as it was securely anchored in the sand at Tiger Beach about 30 lemon sharks turned up.
A large number of them began to thrash about at the surface expectantly. They had obviously come to associate dive-boats with a free meal.
Their big sand-coloured bodies looked rather incongruous to those of us who expect sharks to be the guys in the grey suits. A couple of itinerant holiday-divers who had casually joined us for a day’s diving at the Old Bahama Bay resort looked daunted by the prospect of getting into the water with them. In fact they looked positively scared!
I don’t know what they thought when they later witnessed my predicament with the tiger shark, but they chose not to make a second dive, and sat it out rather grumpily on the boat.
We were lucky. The weather was very overcast but there was little current, which is unusual because Tiger Beach is fed by the Gulf Stream.
The visiting divers were equipped with billy-sticks for prodding away any shark that got too close. They were briefed to stay kneeling in one place on the sandy seabed, their dive-guide close behind them, and watch the show as the sharks were attracted to a bait-box suspended in mid-water from a buoy.
This became the centre of the mêlée of big, toothy lemon sharks as they churned around chaotically, competing for the food that evidently smelled delicious as it wafted through the water.
I had no billy-stick. Armed instead with a big camera housing with long flash-mounting-arms, I was free to move around.

LEMON SHARKS ARE BIG and mean-looking and appear in dire need of an orthodontist. Their spiky teeth are very much in evidence. They’re very much like the sharks in Finding Nemo.
They churned round continuously under the bait-box that drifted up and past me as the boat swung in the wind.
If you inadvertently found yourself under the bait-box, you were in the centre of the action.
Lemon sharks are also sneaky and opportunistic. You need to be aware that a lemon shark might bite you simply because you’re there.
It was in the confusion of sharks under the bait-box that a sixth sense told me at one important moment that one intended to give my gloved hand a nip.
I instinctively moved so that the shark grabbed the flash mounting arm adjacent to it.
There was a brief tussle before it gave up and let go. I’m left with the scars on the anodised aluminium to prove it.
This is all very well, but then the massive tiger sharks make an appearance. These are big striped animals with huge unemotional black eyes and a stealthy approach to eating.
Their mouths are so capacious that they occasionally tried to swallow the galvanised iron bait-box as it dangled from its chain.
When several tiger sharks are circling, you need eyes in the back of your head to keep them all in sight. You find yourself focusing on one while another sneaks up from behind.
Normally, smaller sharks defer to larger ones, but the lemon sharks were not impressed and continued to mob the water immediately around the bait-box like a mob of angry teenagers.
The tigers came in slowly and determinedly, like their grannies.
If I wanted close-up pictures, I needed to be close to that bait-box. Several times I had to push an impressive yet persistent tiger shark away from me because it was simply getting too close.
I was surprised to find that they felt quite squidgy in places, especially behind the gill-slits. Stuart and Beto constantly needed to push them away too, but the tigers were remorseless in a timeless and cold-blooded way.
They would swim around the periphery of the feeding lemon sharks, before heading into the crowd to do something unspeakable with those massive and unforgiving maws. They did this repeatedly.
Tiger sharks enjoy a catholic diet. Stuart tells me that during one movie shoot, they experimented by offering items ranging from frozen turkeys to car number-plates, all of which seemed acceptable. They aren’t vindictive, they’ll just mindlessly eat whatever’s put in front of them.
I’m assured that the diving is not normally as frenetic as it was the day after the BBC had finished shooting its Deadliest.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE Direct flight six days a week with BA to Nassau from London Heathrow. Connect with Bahamasair or other local carrier.
DIVING John Bantin travelled at the invitation of tour operator Original Diving (www.originaldiving.com) and Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas (www.stuartcove.com).
ACCOMMODATION Old Bahama Bay Resort, Grand Bahama, www.oldbahamabay.com
WHEN TO GO The Bahamas has Caribbean reef, lemon, bull, nurse and tiger sharks present all year round. Avoid the hurricane season in late summer/autumn.
MONEY US and Bahamian dollars
PRICES Original Diving is offering a raft of inclusive shark-diving holidays from London. Price on application.
FURTHER INFORMATION www.bahamas.co.uk